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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Eagles at the Bye: Three Observations and Some Predictions

by: Ryan Waldis
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It's crazy that it's already Week 12 of the NFL Season. Well, at least to me it is. After today, the Eagles will only have five weeks to prove that they belong in the playoffs. They won't get to prove anything today though, as they were the lucky recipients of the latest possible bye a team could get. Depending on how you look at it, that could be a good thing or a bad thing. Regardless, these past 11 weeks have, for the most part, made football relevant again in Philadelphia. Aside from those games against the Cowboys and Giants in October, as well as that horrendous game against the Broncos in September, this Eagles team has entertained us, something they haven't been able to do since 2010. With that being said, here are three observations from the first 11 weeks of the season, to go along with predictions for the final five games of the season.

1. Fans were in awe of Michael Vick in this offense...

Vick had an excellent start to the season.
Photo Courtesy: CBS Philly
You couldn't really have envisioned a better start to the season if you were a Michael Vick supporter. Against the Redskins, he completed 15 of his 25 passes for 203 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also rushed nine times for 54 yards and a touchdown. Against the Chargers one week later, Vick completed 23 of his 36 passes for 428 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. Once again, he manged to add another rushing touchdown to his stats. Then, it all went down hill. Vick completed only 43 percent of his passes in Andy Reid's homecoming game while also throwing two interceptions. Against Denver, he completed 51 percent for 248 yards, but no touchdowns. Then, that fateful day against the Giants came, the one in which he injured his hamstring while running out of bounds. Enter Nick Foles.

2. ...until they saw what Nick Foles could do.

All aboard the "Foles is the Future" train!
Photo Courtesy: Bleacher Report
I've been a Foles supporter since day one, so to see him perform like he is now makes me extremely happy. He completed 16 of his 25 passes for 197 yards and two touchdowns on that early October afternoon, leading the Eagles to their first victory since Week One. The following week, against the win-less Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Foles completed 22 of his 31 passes for 296 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions; he also had a rushing touchdown. Then, things went downhill, if only for a small amount of time. Foles didn't look good in the game against the Cowboys, eventually leaving with a concussion. He would miss only one game, however, and in his first game back against the Raiders, Foles tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes (he also threw for 406 yards). Ever since then, more and more fans are joining the "Nick Foles is the Future" club. As Chip Kelly says, he's not "fleet of foot" (his 5.14 40 time at the Combine can tell you that) but "fleet of mind." And, as Foles will tell you, he's not a straight-ahead speed guy; he's "crafty."

3. Cary Williams was right.

This man was right.
Photo Courtesy: CSN New England
Remember when Cary Williams, earlier in the season, said that the defense would eventually build an identity; it'd just take time? Well, it took 11 weeks, but it's safe to say he was right: this Eagles defense finally has an identity. They seem to have a bend but don't break mentality. They'll let a team drive down the field, perhaps even into the red-zone, but they won't let the team go much further than that. After allowing 52 points to the Broncos, the defense has really buckled down. Since then, they've allowed 21, 20, 17, 15, 20, 13, and 16 points to the Giants, Buccaneers, Cowboys, Giants, Raiders, Packers, and Redskins, respectively. The defensive line is among the youngest in the NFL and has improved each week. The linebacking corps of Connor Barwin, DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, and Trent Cole is among the most talented in the league. However, the secondary may be the most impressive unit of the defense. Cary Williams, Bradley Fletcher, Earl Wolff and, yes, even Nate Allen have performed very well since Week Four. This defense wasn't supposed to be good. If a casual fan looked at the rankings, they'd assume that the preceding statement is a fact. It's not. The offense has impressed us, yes, but I'd like to think the defense has impressed us even more.

Now, here are my predictions for the final five games of the season.

vs. Arizona Cardinals: WIN: This game will be a bit tougher than most people envisioned it would be earlier in the season. Bruce Arians has really turned this Cardinals team around, so much so that they might make the playoffs over the San Francisco 49ers. Regardless, the Eagles will improve to 7-5.

vs. Detroit Lions: LOSS: I don't care how much the defense has improved; the Eagles haven't been able to stop Calvin Johnson over the past couple of years, and they definitely won't be able to stop him this year. The Eagles fall to 7-6.

at Minnesota Vikings: WIN: If the Eagles find a way to lost this game, they don't deserve to be in the playoffs. The Eagles improve to 8-6.

vs. Chicago Bears: WIN: The Bears are a tough team, but I think the Eagles can find a way to pull this one out. The Eagles improve to 9-6.

at Dallas Cowboys: WIN: This game will be the icing on the cake. The Eagles will officially knock the Cowboys out of the playoff contention with a convincing win. The Eagles will improve to 10-6, win the NFC East, and most likely clinch the four seed (although the three seed is not out of the question as of yet).

Thanks for reading, and, if you're in or near the Philadelphia region, enjoy watching the Jets at the Ravens (1:00, CBS), the Panthers at the Dolphins (1:00, FOX), the Cowboys at the Giants (4:25, FOX) and the Broncos at the Patriots (8:30, NBC) in place of the Eagles today!


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